David Backes and the Boston Bruins taking on the St. Louis Blues tonight has been a big story around the hockey world today, even with so much else going on. It speaks measures about how much the former Blues captain meant to his former franchise. A second-round pick by St. Louis in 2003, the big power forward quickly established himself as one of the best two-way players in the league, as well as a strong leader in the locker room. Backes ranks in the top ten in Blues’ franchise records for games, goals, assists, points, and penalty minutes and has had a lasting effect on the team beyond just the record books.
With the Blues struggling defensively this season (51 goals allowed vs. 40 by the Bruins), there has been a lot of talk about the negative effects that the loss of Backes has had on the team and questioning the decision to let him walk. So when the two teams lined up at TD Garden in Boston tonight, St. Louis fans could only hope that Backes wouldn’t directly harm them as opposed to his absence indirectly hurting the team against other teams. Fittingly, it was Backes who scored the first goal of the game, early in the first period. Backes had told NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin that he was worried about shooting on the wrong goal tonight, but got it right when he he jammed home a rebound to put Boston up 1-0.
The goal was also a significant career achievement for Backes, as it officially gave him a goal against all 30 NHL teams. The long-time Blue has been a great addition in Boston, scoring his fourth goal and eighth point of the season early in the game, playing in only his 14th game. A big, strong player, who also wears the alternate captain “A” on the road (and at home tonight for this special personal circumstance), Backes has helped the Bruins to get back to the physical, defensively sound game that led them to two Stanley Cup appearances in three years not long ago, but has been lacking the past couple of seasons.
- Backes’ goal was also a milestone for the Bruins franchise, as it marked 20,000 goals for the team. An Original Six franchise with a winning history, Boston joins their arch-rival, the Montreal Canadiens, as the only two teams to accomplish the feat.
- Although the Bruins are off to a strong start, their is still room for improvement. The top line of Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak has been excellent, but a lack of consistency and cohesion among their other forward lines has limited an offense that was among the league’s best in 2015-16. The line combinations may finally sort themselves out when Frank Vatrano returns to the lineup and, fortunately for the Bruins, that appears to be coming sooner rather than later. Vatrano injured his foot in off-season conditioning, and was forced to undergo surgery that was expected to keep him out at least through the calendar year. Instead, he took the ice this morning in his first skate with the team and is ahead of schedule to return. The AHL’s leading goal-scorer in 2015-16 (36 goals in 36 games), Vatrano also contributed eight goals in 39 games in Boston last year. The former UMass star was expected to win a top nine job in camp and was a prime candidate for a breakout year. With line chemistry still unclear, a prime spot will surely still be up for the 22-year-old with a knack for finding the back of the net.